Planned Parenthood has been getting a lot of attention in the media these days. “Defunding” Planned Parenthood has become a key point in the campaigns of many GOP Presidential hopefuls, and Carly Fiorina scored big points at the last primary debate by calling attention to videos that allegedly showed human dissections by Planned Parenthood. [She was accused of making up the videos, but it’s more likely that she saw some stock footage that was inserted into a video about Planned Parenthood, even though it likely didn’t accurately portray what happens at Planned Parenthood.] A piece at Salon argues that this is part of a long string of attempts by the right wing to “defund the left.” I think this argument is compelling, but in a conspiratorial way that I think is hard to pull off in today’s world of transparency and whistle blowing. Although it may have started that way, it seems to me that it’s become much more about dividing the country into us vs them, and trying to define who the us is in that division.
There are a bunch of versions of a social media post that float around from time to time. The premise of these posts is that the poster grew up saying the Pledge of Allegiance, but that kids today aren’t saying it because it might offend somebody, and it implies that this is the downfall of America. It creates this sense that there are people who are for the Pledge, and people who are against the Pledge. Some of that might be true. I have to say that I, personally, feel like it’s a kind of silly thing. First of all, I’ve said it a zillion times, but have never been placed under oath before saying it. I could have been lying without any risk of perjury charges. Second, I’m not all that fond of symbolism. I’ll take somebody who refuses to say the Pledge, but who fights day and night for American ideals, over somebody who says the Pledge repeatedly but won’t lift a finger to actually do anything to help his country. But that’s not the point of the post. The post is there to generate this completely false sense that there is some war being waged against the Pledge of Allegiance, when nothing could be farther from the truth.
It turns out that the vast majority of states require the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance by school children. There are a few states that have not yet passed laws requiring it, but most schools in those states have their children recite it anyway, and the list of states that have flexibility is not what some might expect. Instead of the poster children for the right to call out as liberal states, Oklahoma, Iowa, Wyoming are three of the five states that do not force kids in public schools, by law, to say the Pledge in school (the other two states are Vermont and Hawaii). Oklahoma has voted for the republican candidate in all but one election since 1952 (they voted for Johnson over Goldwater in 1964, but so did all but 6 states). Iowa has been a bit more balanced in their elections, but would hardly be considered a stomping ground for liberals. Wyoming? Their record is similar to Oklahoma’s, but with even stronger GOP majorities in individual elections. So a small handful of states don’t require the Pledge, school kids in those states tend to say the Pledge even though it’s not required by law, and a minority of states that don’t require it could be considered left-leaning. So where is this imaginary dividing line? Nowhere. It doesn’t exist. It’s fabricated to make people think that their values, as Pledge-loving Americans, are under attack. Under attack by people who want to destroy the country, starting by making sure that nobody says a non-binding Pledge of Allegiance every morning at school.
What’s especially odd about the Pledge in schools strategy of dividing us is that the people who seem to be on the side of the Pledge (as if there are real sides here), are the same people who want to make it easier for kids to go to private schools. They’re the same people who are for vouchers to allow kids to leave the public school system in favor of the private school system. Do you know what schools aren’t required to say the Pledge of Allegiance in every state except Wisconsin? Private schools. Yes, that’s right. These people are fighting to get people out of the public schools that require the Pledge, in favor of private schools that don’t require the pledge (except in Wisconsin, where state law requires that it’s recited at least one day per week in both public and private schools). I don’t even know what to say to that…
In the case of Planned Parenthood, the dividing line is similarly fabricated. There is a push to “defund” Planned Parenthood. The House of Representatives recently passed a resolution to stop federal dollars from reaching Planned Parenthood, at least until the funding bills for the next fiscal year are approved. The vote was almost completely along party lines, with no republicans voting against, and only three democrats voting in favor. This is being framed by those leading the charge as a way to punish organizations that support or perform abortions. Let’s put aside the fact that abortions are a legal medical procedure in the United States, and take a look at the funding and how it reaches Planned Parenthood. First, estimates are the Planned Parenthood receives approximately $528 million from government sources each year (this according to their most recent annual report). This is 0.0139% of the Federal Budget and $1.71 per American each year. I understand that even one penny spent toward abortions would bother many Americans, but it’s also important to note that none of the money received by Planned Parenthood is used for abortions. What nobody is saying in all of this is that 75% of this money comes in the form of Medicaid payments, which raises another issue: that Medicaid money is partly state funds, and those dollars aren’t being targeted at all by the resolution in Congress. Either way, 75% of the government funding for Planned Parenthood is payment for medical (non-abortion) services. Many women see doctors who are part of Planned Parenthood, and if those people are poor, and qualify for Medicaid, then Medicaid pays for the doctor visits. Why not defund any private doctor’s office that accepts Medicaid and performs abortions? I believe the answer is simple: those measures wouldn’t divide us as much as the larger fight over Planned Parenthood does. In the end, it’s a smokescreen, engineered to divide us into us vs them, even though we’re all us in reality.
I’m sure that liberals do this too. I don’t think the right wing has a monopoly on this strategy. We certainly incite outrage over county clerks who refuse to issue marriage licences, even though there are 3,143 counties in the United States and only one has a clerk pulling this stunt. Another side of the story is that it’s the right wing that’s turning that into a publicity stunt, to rally the anti-gay marriage crowd. I imagine that both perspectives have some truth to them. What about things like #blacklivesmatter? Liberals believe that there is a racial equity problem in the United States. Conservative commentators call this “race baiting.” To them, the issue of black men being killed by police at disproportionate rates is a manufactured problem, designed to force people to take sides in a black vs white fight. I can’t say that I agree with any of this: I see disproportionate arrests for similar crimes, disparities in sentencing for the same crimes, and other race disparities as a problem, but I’m a liberal, and certainly guided by my mindset. I undoubtedly gravitate toward more “liberal” sources of information, and I am more likely to trust certain sources over others in controversial disputes. I would like to think that I’m my own man, and that I think for myself in every respect, and I was rather pleased to find out that my level of political bias was less than 75% of test-takers, but that also means that 75% of test-takers were more biased than I am, and I’m not completely unbiased.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any answers here. I don’t even have any realistic suggestions. Spend more time thinking about the facts? Don’t accept the premises of things you see online without checking them out first? These are good steps, but this kind of critical evaluation of the news takes a lot of time and effort, time that people outside my Ivory Tower often don’t have (time that people inside this Ivory Tower don’t have either…including me). So I don’t know where to go, but that’s kind of what this blog is about for me…a place to flesh out ideas about things that I can’t control at all.